Anxious about that big date, crucial meeting or family gathering?
You may want to prep with a cup of yogurt: a promising new study in Psychiatry Research has found that people who eat more fermented foods, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, and kimchi, have fewer social anxiety symptoms. But note, some of these foods, such as kombucha – a fermented tea popular in the Far East and Russia – have had adverse health reactions in some people.
Researchers surveyed more than 700 people and found that the more fermented foods participants ate the less likely they were to experience social anxiety – anxious feelings of distress that interfere with daily social interactions. Even wilder is that this benefit was greatest among people who had the highest rates of neuroticism, a personality trait characterised by anxiety, fear, moodiness, worry, envy, frustration, jealousy, and loneliness.
What makes those foods so powerfully calming? Based on this study alone, the authors can’t say for sure, but previous research points the finger at probiotics, the good-for-you bacteria found in fermented foods. “Social anxiety has gastrointestinal symptoms,” says lead author Matthew Hilimire, assistant professor of psychology at the College of William & Mary, “and probiotics have been shown to reduce gut inflammation. So as the gut becomes less inflamed, some of those anxiety-related symptoms are reduced.”
Eating probiotics has also been shown to affect brain chemistry in a major way, triggering a neurotransmitter called GABA that calms the nervous system – the exact same neurotransmitter targeted by anti-anxiety drugs like Valium, Hilimire explains. The researchers hope that fermented foods could someday be a low-risk treatment for anxiety.
If you don’t want to live on yoghurt or plough through masses of sauerkraut (which wouldn’t be a problem for Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink, but Lord above it’s a problem for anyone sleeping in the same bedroom) the simplest solution might be to trial some of the many probiotics supplements now freely available.
We have long suspected that reducing “inflammation” in the system is a key way to not only improve mood but also defer illnesses like cancer. As in all things, a balanced diet seems the most sensible approach. The ancient Chinese concept of the body becoming “over heated” through the consumption of certain foods may end up being shown to be worthwhile.
Chinese medicine is, indeed, interesting. On a business trip there many moons ago we were struck down with the most miserable dose of a cold or flu which then settled on our chest, and we ended up feeling very sick indeed.
Travelling alone we really didn’t have the faintest idea what to do, so wandered into a traditional Chinese chemist, full of herbs and potions and things that didn’t really bear too close an examination. The man in the white coat took one look at the hacking, sputum-fountain of a guailo in front of him and sold us a bottle of obscure liquid which as soon as we started quaffing it back at the hotel made us feel remarkably better.
So much better, in fact, that instead of discarding it when we recovered, we took it home and showed it to our GP, telling him how wonderful Chinese medicine is, and we should eat the stuff in Australia.
He asked his Chinese-speaking assistant to decipher the label, then turned back and smiled drily. He said it was hardly surprising that we felt on top of the world when quaffed it, as he strongly suspected the stuff was about 80% morphine. He quietly disposed of it in his office bin.